Photo credit: Instagram
I was going to put up a Facebook status, something along the lines of “the moment when your cousin forgets to give you a blanket and you freeze because the A.C remote is lost and you have to resort to covering yourself with a prayer mat.” I had it all typed out, but I couldn’t post it. The news and my homepage were full of stories of how people in Karachi were dying from a heatwave. First I heard it was forty people or so. Then the numbers rose within a few days and now thousands have been hospitalized- the morgues are in full capacity. It was such a privileged complaint, the divide so great between how we live and how others in our own country live. How could I feel anything but gratitude? I live in Islamabad; going from an air conditioned room, to an air conditioned air, to an air conditioned restaurant. Or, if it’s rained like in the past few days, choosing to stay outside because the breeze is pleasant?
My gratitude did not owe itself to the general overwhelming feelings I get in Ramadan; I carry gratitude for everything in my heart but I know how easily I could have been born into another family, one that didn’t have the privileges and luxuries I enjoy. But the atmosphere of Ramadan has leaked onto the internet and we’re all the better for it.
I’ve liked Islamic pages, on Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr. On an ordinary day I get to read a few translated verses and hadith, but in Ramadan all my social media is bombarded. There aren’t just translations, but explanations and advice such as how to conduct oneself; an Indian scholar, Dr. Zakir Naik, keeps posting pictures of common mistakes made in Ramadan. For example, people should hasten to break their fast, and not do it slowly.
Today after Iftari, I prayed, got ready and went out with my friends. A couple of times last year we’d break our fast in a restaurant; this time of year every single place has Iftari buffets, but they’re expensive and sometimes there isn’t always a place to pray so we would have to pray in our friend’s car. This year I had sworn I wasn’t going out for Iftari; it’s never worth it if you miss a prayer.
The weather had cooled off a little, and we were sitting outside at Hot Spot. My friend ordered ice cream and a fresh juice that he took so long to drink that I had to eat his ice cream in the end. The healthy eating is not going well. In fact it’s not going at all. It’s at a dead end, it’s given up.
I hadn’t met him since January and we had a lot of catching up to do. I always forget how easy it is for other people to become topics of conversation. You start off innocent, an embarrassing anecdote or two, complaining about University, and then there it is, an opening, inevitable: the gossip begins. This time around, it wasn’t the thought of “it’s Ramadan” that stopped us from indulging in who had dated whom and was now dating somebody else and who had said what about somebody. We had read too many hadith against gossip and backbiting, too many verses of the Quran to continue. The conversation had barely begun and then petered out into something innocuous.
It’s about restraint in everyday living. Restraining your mouth from saying unkind things about others and from swearing, restraining your hands from hurting people and from doings you shouldn’t be doing. Abstaining from saying anything hurtful or harmful, any gossip, slander or lying. And it’s a month of practice; it’s not to be ignored for the rest of the year. These are habits that are meant to be adopted for a lifetime.
My cousin has begun watching Game of Thrones. Sometime in the evening I turn to her and say, “You know, you can’t really watch this while you’re fasting.”
“I know, but I am not fasting, I am on my period.”
This is about two things; fasting includes abstaining from watching anything inappropriate and women can’t pray or fast during their period. They can still recite the Quran, or duas on prayers beads. However many fasts are missed, they are then made up for after Eid, anytime during the year before the next Ramadan.
Purification means a lot of things to me. It means the daily ablutions before prayers, the shower women take after their period, and after sex, standing on the prayer mat and asking for forgiveness. But Islam is about another kind of purification, one that attempts to bring human beings closer to God by having them understand the true ephemerality of this life.
Ramadan is meant to cleanse you. Ideally, you’re supposed to enter it completely willing to change certain habits, to learn self control, to learn to forego pride, to forego arguing even if you know you’re right. It’s a chance to learn one’s own elasticity, to test how far you can go to do something.
I am in the mountains with my cousins, constantly being tested. Every minute it’s a struggle: not to lose my temper, not to make a crude joke, not to swear. When you’re all together, the motivation to get up from watching “Lost” and pray is very little. The motivation to pick up the Quran, and not hang out outside and listen to music, is very little. But ultimately, Ramadan teaches you to bring two worlds together. To learn how to make time for religion, to better yourself and to do this whilst living in a world where temptations and desires are misleading. But it also teaches you to enjoy yourself, to enjoy religion and to look forward to asking God for the big things and the little things. Personally, I ask God to help my skin get better. Nothing is too petty, nothing is too insignificant. If you can ask, why not?